‘Platoon’ Is Top Film; Newman Is Best Actor

Times Staff Writer

On a night Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” was named best picture, and a best actress award went to Marlee Matlin, a hearing-impaired young actress who made her film debut in “Children of a Lesser God,” actor Paul Newman finally won his first Oscar Monday after seven tries, winning as best actor for his role in “The Color of Money.”

Woody Allen, already a two-time Oscar winner, won again for the original script for his “Hannah and Her Sisters,” while Dianne Wiest and four-time nominee Michael Caine took home statuettes for their supporting roles in Allen’s bittersweet comedy about three neurotic sisters in upscale Manhattan.

However, it was “Platoon,” the grim, grunt’s-eye view of the Vietnam war that won the most Oscars, four, with Vietnam veteran Stone getting a best director award and his film also getting statuettes for sound and editing.


Newman, a sentimental favorite, reprised his Oscar-nominated 1961 role of Fast Eddie Felson in “The Hustler,” this time with Felson as a middle-aged liquor salesman reliving and reviving his pool skills through a young protege played by Tom Cruise.

Newman did not attend the 59th annual Academy Awards ceremonies, he said, because he was busy editing a film version of “The Glass Menagerie,” starring his wife, Joanne Woodward.

But through a spokesman, Newman, 62, said “I’m thrilled. I’m on a roll now,” and jokingly added, “Maybe I can get a job.”

In addition to Allen’s “Hannah,” “A Room With a View” also was a triple winner, for set decoration, costumes and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s screen adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Edwardian-era novel about a repressed young woman and her tortured love for an uninhibited man.

But the real emotion in a long evening at the Los Angeles Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was exhibited by Matlin and Stone, the latter a 1979 Oscar-winner for the screenplay of “Midnight Express.”

Matlin received her Oscar from her real-life lover, William Hurt, a 1986 Oscar winner who, in “Children of a Lesser God,” played the unorthodox teacher at a school for the deaf, a teacher who falls in love with an embittered former student portrayed by Matlin.

Sign-Language Thanks

The 21-year-old actress, beaming and “signing” her speech with her hands, thanked those involved with the movie, her parents and “particularly William Hurt for his great support and love in this film.”

Stone, in his acceptance speech, thanked Academy members for “this Cinderella ending,” and said he believes his award means they are acknowledging Vietnam veterans, what those veterans went through in the war “and saying it should never, ever in our lifetimes happen again.

“And if it does,” he added, “those American boys died over there for nothing, because America learned nothing from the Vietnam War.”

It was a refrain echoed by “Platoon” producer Arnold Kopelson, who in accepting the statuette for best picture, said that the movie “has brought to this generation a new perspective of war--that war is not glamorous, that it maims and kills.”

In addition to Newman, Allen, Caine and Jhabvala were not present for the awards. Allen, a winner in 1977 for writing and directing “Annie Hall,” was reported holding true to his Oscar night tradition--remaining 2,800 miles away in New York, playing clarinet in a Dixeland jazz band in a saloon called Michael’s Pub.

First-Time Winner

Caine, as the temporarily wayward husband in “Hannah,” had been nominated three times before, but never had won until Monday.

Wiest, a New York stage actress who played the sweetly neurotic sister called Holly in “Hannah,” was overjoyed at winning her first Oscar.

“Gee,” she said, laughing with unabashed delight, “this isn’t like what I imagined this would be like when I was in the bathtub.”

An unintentionally comic moment in the evening came when presenter Bette Davis, having failed to announce four of five best actor nominees, then interrupted a prepared acceptance speech for Newman by Academy President Robert Wise and exclaimed, “this award is long overdue!” Wise never did get to make his speech.

This year, Newman’s strongest rival was thought to be Hurt of “Children of a Lesser God.” Hurt won last year’s best-actor Oscar as an imprisoned homosexual in “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”

Wiest’s rivals in the supporting-actress category had been Tess Harper, the meddling cousin of “Crimes of the Heart;” Piper Laurie, the mother in “Children of a Lesser God;” Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Tom Cruise’s tough-talking sweetheart in “The Color of Money,” and Maggie Smith, up for her third Oscar as the maiden cousin and chaperon of the heroine of “A Room With a View.”

In addition to Caine, the supporting-actor contenders included two deadly rivals in “Platoon"--Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe. The others were Denholm Elliott, the outspoken Mr. Emerson of “A Room With a View,” and Dennis Hopper, the town drunk of “Hoosiers.”

Other Contenders

Although Stone’s “Platoon” was favored to win in the best-picture category, two other films--Allen’s “Hannah” and “A Room With a View"--had been considered in the running against Stone’s movie, which co-host Chevy Chase jokingly described as “a recruiting film for conscientious objectors.”

The other best-picture nominees were the Hesper Anderson-Mark Medoff adaptation of “Children of a Lesser God,” Medoff’s Tony-winning Broadway play, and director Roland Joffe’s “The Mission,” a haunting, passionate story of the Portuguese and Spanish empires battling Jesuit missionaries trying to help Guarani Indians in 18th-Century Latin America.

Stone, with Richard Boyle, also had been nominated this year for best original screenplay for “Salvador,” a high-voltage tale of a hard-drinking, pot-smoking gonzo reporter-photographer covering rebels and right-wing death squads in the civil war of El Salvador.

“Platoon” and “A Room With a View” had been the leading Oscar nominees with eight, followed by seven for “Hannah.”

Matlin’s rivals for best-actress honors were former Oscar-winner Sissy Spacek of “Crimes of the Heart;” Jane Fonda, seeking her third statuette, this time as the alcoholic actress in “The Morning After;” Kathleen Turner, the time-tripping estranged wife in “Peggy Sue Got Married,” and Sigourney Weaver, who battled the forces of slime in 1979’s “Alien” and did it again in this season’s sequel, “Aliens.”

Nominees in Contest

Other best-actor contenders were first-time nominee Bob Hoskins, the chauffeur-protector of an elegant London prostitute in “Mona Lisa;” James Wood as the rowdy journalist of “Salvador” and tenor-sax jazzman Dexter Gordon, who never has acted before but won critical acclaim as the burned-out, alcoholic expatriate of “Round Midnight.”

An Oscar for the best foreign-language film went to the Dutch film, “The Assault.”

Other winners were “The Mission” for cinematography; Grammy-winner jazzman Herbie Hancock for best score in “Round Midnight;” best song, “Take My Breath Away” from “Top Gun;” “For Women, For America, For the World,” best short documentary; a tie for best documentary between “Artie Shaw: Time Is All You’ve Got” and “Down and Out in America;” “Aliens” for sound effects editing and visual effects, and “The Fly” for makeup.

Oscars also went to “A Greek Tragedy” for best animated short film, and to “Precious Images” for best short live-action film.

The black-tie ceremonies were televised nationally by ABC, and aired either live or on a tape-delay basis in 85 other countries. Although efforts were made to keep it brisk and avoid more of the declining ratings that have plagued it for the last three years, the show often dragged.

Its first awards were not made until 35 minutes after the program began, and the program ran 22 minutes over its scheduled three-hour broadcast.

During the ceremonies, previously announced awards were made to two major Hollywood figures--producer-director Steven Spielberg and veteran actor Ralph Bellamy, each of whom received standing ovations from the audience.

Special Honors

Spielberg, 39, whose hits include “E.T., the Extra-terrestrial” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” but whose “The Color Purple” failed to win any of 11 Oscar nominations in 1986, was given the Irving G. Thalberg Award for consistently high-quality films.

He called the award, named for the legendary MGM production chief, “truly a great honor for me” and, acknowledging that some of his film hits have emphasized special effects, called for a renewal “of our romance with the word,” the writing of literate scripts.

Bellamy, 82, whose 103 films over 65 years have ranged from “The Front Page” and “Sunrise at Campobello” to “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Trading Places,” received an honorary Oscar--he never has won one--for “his unique artistry and his distinguished service to the profession of acting.”

John M. Wilson contributed to this story.

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